Review: The Story Of The World Cup

The Story Of The World Cup
The Story Of The World Cup by Brian Glanville

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I desperately wanted to love this book: it was given to me by my wife as part of a Christmas tradition where we buy each other a second-hand book that we might not have bought ourselves, but which we think “Of course!” once we open the wrapping. I’m a football fan, a lover of the World Cup (one of our favourite shared memories is of me utterly failing to remain quiet whilst watching Australia v Japan in a hotel room during WC2006 whilst she unsuccessfully tried to get some sleep next to me), an utter football tragic in as many ways as time and money let me be. This looked like a good fit. I really, really wish it had been.

Sadly, the book turns out to be a depressingly mundane read from an author who seems to have been given a word-a-day calendar for Christmas and grown bored with it by about January 5th: every winger in the history of the sport is ‘insidious’ (and half of them ‘little’); every right foot that scores a goal a hammer; every left likewise; and while ‘fulminating’ may be a cool word to pull out and use when you want to impress a girl you like, I hadn’t read it in a text in something like 20 years, which makes the sixteen times it appears in this book so laughable it verges on a drinking game.

More disturbingly is Glanville’s preoccupation with describing players via their skin or hair colour. Three types of players exist in Glanville’s world: those with a mane of blond hair, like Gabriel Batistuta or Luis Hernandez; those who are ‘dark’, like Gerd Muller or Franz Beckenbauer; or most worryingly, those he simply describes as ‘black’. In the early pages, in those first few tournaments where it is quickly apparent that Glanville has no direct experience and is pulling together reports from the time, such a description can be accepted as a yardstick of the modernising effect that black footballers were having on the national aspirations of countries like Brazil and Uruguay. It serves to highlight the special attributes certain players brought to their tournaments, and what they overcame to get there. By the time we get to 1994, an he still insists on singling out players like Aron Winter for this description, there’s only one conclusion that can be reluctantly drawn. There is simply no need for the description anymore. It is Glanville, not the circumstance, who accords importance to the colour of a player’s skin.

It leaves a lingering taste in the mouth, but it’s not the only problem.

Glanville can’t decide whether the book is to be a Wisdenish collation of facts or a more personal, opinionated series of recollections by a man who performed journalistic duties at a long series of the World Cup events, and has been able to extend his research back to cover those that occurred before his time. It leads to a schism of approach between pre- and post-1966 reportage: dry as dust to begin with, and lapsing increasingly into irrelevant asides that do nothing to advance the narrative of each tournament (his constant niggling at, and denigration of, for example, both Kevin Keegan and Bobby Robson, is never at any stage backed up with a reason why he feels this way towards an admired player and manager). Ultimately he tries to cover both styles, and falls between them both, coming across like nothing more or less than the boring nerk at the end of the bar who thrusts himself into a passionate fan argument without being asked, and proceeds to bleed it dry by acting like an utter anorak: lacking humour, original insight, or anything approaching an understanding of the passions that drive the argument in the first place.

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And so we come to the end of 2012, a year named after a shitty movie that replicated it in as much as it was overbudget, filled with bad science, was downright made of stupid, and made me want to stab John Cusack in the eye. Thus it is in a somewhat reflective and grown-up mood that I contemplate this year’s annual review. Some mighty highs, some pretty deep lows, some jelly beans found down the back of the coach that tasted okay once you got the fluff off, a dead guy in the boot that’s beginning to smell. And chips.

1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?

Saw my novel in print, achieved promotion to co-ordinator level at work.

2. Did you achieve your goals for the year, and will you make more for next year?

I’ve changed this question slightly, from ‘resolutions’ to ‘goals’, as I think it’s a more positive approach, and there’s one change for me for a start– I’m going to try to be a little more positive this year. My general sense of humour has slipped alarmingly from ‘wry’ through ‘dark’ to ‘gallows’: I need to rein it back a bit.

Other than that, I actually did not bad this year. Most of my goals were writing-related, and despite problems with me weight (more on that later) and a promotion at work which has resulted in longer days, I still managed to successfully navigate the publication of my first novel and the completion of two more, which was pretty decent going under the circumstance.

So what’s on the cards for 2013? I’ve a list of 8 goals this year, covering professional, personal, and hobby. This is what I’m aiming for:

  • Lose 12 kilograms. My weight ballooned in 2012, to the point where, if I was getting on a plane with Jabba the Hutt and Colleen McCullough they’d probably ask one of us to take a later flight. To a certain extent I’ve been time-poor, but the greater truth is that I’ve been a fat lazy bastard with no willpower. 12 kilograms will take me back to 100 kilos, which would mean I only needed to repeat the feat in 2014 to be back where I belong.
  • Send the Father Muerte & The Divine chapter package and synopsis to SuperAgent Rich. Winning my first novel contract was wonderful, but the bigger trick is doing it again. Now that I’ve fulfilled the 2 novels of that first contract I’m in a position to aim for a new one, and with the Father Muerte novel first draft finished, it’s time to get it in the hands of the man who can get it for me.
  • Pitch the 3rd Corpse-Rat King novel. Angry Robot have made encouraging noises. Nothing worse that a robot that gets cold feet. I’ll have this in their hands in a couple of weeks.
  • Write a new novel. All part of the career arc. Write, write, and write again. I’m up to ‘again’.
  • Write a kids’ book. At the particular behest of Miss 11 and Master 8, kidlings about town. And why not? Strings, bow, career. And it might be fun.
  • Turn Napoleone’s Land into a fantasy novel. Way back in the dim, dark past, I wrote an alternative history that utterly failed to do anything worthwhile. But the armature is good, and I’m a better write now, and when you read a novel like Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country and see what can be said whilst not being said, it sets a mind to wondering. This is a very do-able task, and there’s a good story there, just waiting to find its best format.
  • Enter Nnovvember. Every year the Lego community on Flickr produce a poster in memory of Nate ‘nnenn’ Neilson, a much-loved member of the community who specialised in building twin-pronged spacecraft called Vic Vipers. I had my first crack at it this year, and while I didn’t make the poster, loved the craft I created and really enjoyed the feeling of being part of a hobby community. So I’m going to have another crack this year.
  • Design a Cuusoo kit. Lyn’s challenged me to build a ‘substantial’, well-realised MOC, and somehow I’ve escalated that into putting it up on Cuusoo, the Lego/AFOL collaboration site. Once a set reaches 10 000 votes, Lego commit to reviewing it with the possibility of releasing it as an official Lego kit. It’s been done several times already, and for those who have read The Corpse-Rat King, Lyn has requested a ‘wreck of the Nancy Tulip’ set complete with Nandus/Littleboots and Marius. Maybe. Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe.

So. Tune in same Bat-time, same Bat-channel, to see how I get along.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My step-daughter Cassandra gave birth to a gorgeous little girl, Aisla.

G’wan, isn’t she gorgeous?

With our own gorgeous two. Already giving Master 8 ‘the look’.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Not close, after 5 years of estrangement between them, but Lyn’s mother Pat died late upon this year. Thankfully, they managed a small reconciliation in her final days, but really, no good came of it

5. What countries did you visit?

I tried to visit a country for old men, but there wasn’t one.

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

A Happy wife. 2012 was rough on my beautiful darling, from her Mother’s illness, to a demoralising work situation, to serious health issues of her own that are likely to result in surgery some time in 2013. we sat down the other day and decided that, as of the 1st, all is tabula rasa: 2013 starts with a blank slate on all fronts, and the past can fucking well stay where it’s put. If we get to this time next year, and this one thing is achieved, the year will be worth it.

7. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 

28 August. Call me Captain Self-Obsessed, but the publication of my first novel was the highlight of the year.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Seeing The Corpse-Rat King hit print. It’s been a long time coming– too long– but becoming a published novelist, in the way I wanted to become one, was a big turning point in my life, one of those turning points I hope to look back on in many years’ time and say “Yeah, there. That’s when I started out on the path that got me here.”

Honourable mention to outmanoeuvring several more-qualified applicants to gain a promotion at work and become co-ordinator of my department after my old co-ordinator suddenly upped and left after 8 years. My manager cheerfully admits (too cheerfully?) that mine was the weakest application on paper, but my interview blew them away, and after 8-odd months in the job I feel like I might just be coming towards making the position my own.

9. What was your biggest failure?

The upkeep of this enormous white elephant of a house in which we live. I’ve lost 900 grams in the last 5 days sanding, patching, painting, and basically working like a reno-wallah trying to get the big bastard up to a condition where we can think about selling. a house this size was appropriate when we bought it three years ago, back when we had a small army and a trail of camp followers to house. But it’s now too big, too expensive, and too much like constantly painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge to keep it maintained for the remaining 5 of us.

A smaller house, with a garden I can enjoy, rather than constantly service, will be the aim.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

We have 5 people living in our house, and every single one of us has seen the inside of a hospital in the last 18 months. even now, I’m hobbling about on one foot after an accident playing basketball with Master 8 a couple of days ago. Health has not been good for either Lyn or myself.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

I’m tempted to say our new car, a nice downsize from our enormous gas-guzzling 6-seater Falcon with its myriad of mechanical issues to a neat, compact 2012 Hyundai i30 with its parsimonious appetite and nice level of comfort and space. But I’m going to plump for the $700 we spent on our space-age Dyson Transformer vacuum cleaner. It’s the first decent vacuum we’ve had, and came at a point where we could afford to buy  from the top shelf, and in this instance, we got exactly what we paid for. Just one of those pleasing moments where we could indulge on a necessity, and have been well rewarded.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

Each of the members of my family, who pulled together to make a year in which both parents had full time jobs with long hours as painless as it could be, and as usual, my darling Lyn, who puts everybody before herself, and whose sacrifices this year really were sacrificial. The burden shall not be so great in 2013, I promise.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

In the wider world, the National Rifle Association in the USA, whose response to the latest gunning down of innocent schoolchildren showed a vile and reprehensible lack of basic humanity and love for the very citizens their existence is not only predicated upon but, in its purest form, happens only in order to serve in times of national emergency. They skirt perilously close to advocating the armed assassination of their own country’s citizens, and egregiously close to the behaviour of a terrorist organisation. It’s time they were disbanded, burned to the ground, and a new, saner organisation erected on their bones.

On a level much closer to home, the grandfather who lives less than fifty kilometres away and simply sent his grandchildren envelopes with money in them for birthdays and Christmas, and who left one of his grandchildrens’ names off the Christmas card, hardly covered himself in glory. That’s one slow decline in relationships that’s about to slip right underneath the radar.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Restoring some lifestyle we’d been missing, and more recently, paint.

Oh, and Lyn  and the kids finally badgered me once to often about getting a dog, and now they’ve got one. As far as I can tell he eats money and shits happiness for my kids, so he gets to stay another year.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The Hobbit movie, especially as I am father to an 8 year old who decided to read the book for himself this year and then totally lost his shit when he started watching the trailers. I’ve been an uncritical Tolkein fan since I was his age: Sue me.

16. What song will always remind you of 2012?

No one song, really. Musically I had a rather disappointing year. I always try to discover one new band that excites me, but this year I couldn’t find one. The closest I got was a song by Gotye and a couple of distracted listens to Florence & The Machine: amazing voice, but I lacked the time to really explore it.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: i. happier or sadder? ii. thinner or fatter? iii. richer or poorer?

Even-keeled, muuuuuuuch fatter, slightly richer in material goods but battening down for a period of proper, grown-up belt-tightening. And, I should mention, fucking exhausted! I can’t remember ever feeling so tired, so often for so long.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Achieving a decent work-life balance. It tilted a bit too much this year.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Working Saturdays, missing my kids’ assemblies, flaking out exhausted in front of Foxtel of an evening and letting it all wash over me and my beer/cider/moscato.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Cooked the family a slap-up breakfast, did the presents thang, then lay on the bed with my Christmas books and my winter cider and me beloved wife while the Bigguns went off to their dad’s for lunch and sleeping over and the littlies went to their grandparents for lunch and more presents and sleeping over.

21. Who did you meet for the first time?

My new offsider at work, the lovely Donna, and quite a few Facebook friends and Goodreads buddies, most notably the esteemed Brian M. Logan, who I’m counselling through a sad, tragic addiction to a plastic football club. I also met, for the first time in the flesh, those splendid fellows Daniel Simpson and Anthony Panegyres at the KSP SF Mini-con (well, okay, I’d met Daniel before, but this was a proper, full-on, hail-fellow kinda meeting)

22. Did you fall in love in 2012?

I did, with the T-Rex Master 8 got in his giant Lego kit for Christmas. But the little bugger won’t share.

As always, of course, I am gushingly and diabetes-inducingly in love with my beautiful and wonderful wife, the Luscious Lyn.

23. What was your favourite TV program?

Again, nothing really jumps out, and this is probably a reflection of the year as a whole: a lot of stuff was absorbed/watched/listened to, but very little made any sort of lasting impression. Recently, the kids have discovered Monty Python’s Flying Circus, especially Miss 11, so I’m getting great enjoyment watching it with them, but largely because I’m watching them watching it.

Mock the Week and Russell Howard’s Good Week were the two comedy panel/variety style shows that had me rocking back in my chair roaring every week. They’ll be the ones I’ll be scrabbling to pick up in iView or similar now we’ve finally cut the Foxtel umbilical.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

No, not at all. I had a largely hate-free year.

25. What was the best book you read?

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie. Demoralisingly, Abercrombie does an enormous amount of what I’d like to do as a writer, only better, deeper, and at a level I not only can’t match but at a level I don’t think I’m capable of matching.

Honourable mention to the Book of the New Sun quadrology by Gene Wolfe, which remains as utterly superb as it always has been, but is beaten back into second place by being a re-read rather than a new one; Pyrotechnicon by Adam Browne, which is a wonderful confection of a novel that lifts and gladdens the heart; and Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff Vandermeer, which is soaringly intelligent, literary, convoluted and decayed all at the same time. I gave all of them 5 star ratings on Goodreads, and if you haven’t read any of them, I lend you my heartiest recommendation.

Golden Turds for Wolfskin Volume 2 by Warren Ellis, a pointless and boringly stupid thud and blunder graphic novel whose shiny paperstock meant it wasn’t even good enough for wiping my arse on, and Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn, a Thieves’ World collection edited by Robert Lynn Asprin, although in the latter case the fault was undoubtedly mine for revisiting teenage reading, rather than the book: it is what it is, unashamedly and unapologetically pulpy and slapdash, and it’s me that has moved on to more sophisticated fare, not it.

If you’d like to read my reviews of these books, some of them are here on the blog (try the ‘reviews’ link in the cloud) or you can see them on my Goodreads profile.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

As mentioned above, I bummed out this year. No new music that really gripped me and turned my head. I spent more time in my iPod playlists than in listening to the radio. so I’ll go left-field and nominate This Is My Jam, a music-based social media site that I signed up to a couple of months ago, and which I’m hoping will lead me to discover new sounds next year.

27. What was your favourite film of this year?

Yeah, it was The Avengers. Loved it. Loved it with a giggling, bouncing fanboy love. Loved it with my kids next to me loving it, loved it again with just my wife, loved it all over again on DVD. Love love love.

Yes, I’m a big stupid superhero spectacle loving fanboy. Bite me.

Honourable mentions to Seven Psychopaths, the downright funniest and don’t-give-a-shittingnest movie of the year, with Christopher Walken delivering the single best one word line in all of cinema. And a telemovie called Holy Flying Circus, about the reception given to Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the stitching up of the Pythons by the talk show Friday Night, Saturday Morning, which managed to be affectionate, dispassionate, intelligent and fantastical in turn, as well as damned funny in its own right, and was an exceptional piece of small screen film-making.

The Polar Express Award for Making Me Want to Stab My Own Eyes Out went to Prometheus, a film so god-awful bad I actually had blocked it when I wrote the first draft of this review and only remembered it when I took Lyn to the DVd store this evening to find something to watch, a film so bad it could only make Grant Watson happy because now Alien 3 is nowhere near the worst Alien movie ever made: Prometheus is so bad it’s the three worst Alien movies ever made.

Dishonourary stabs in the eye to Dark Shadows, the first movie ever to make me wish Johnny Depp would just stop, take a deep breath, and stop (thankfully, if he really is playing Tonto in a new Lone Ranger movie, my practice at wishing he would just stop should not go to waste), and reinforced my wish that Tim Burton would Just. Fucking. Stop! and Total Recall, a movie in which Colin Farrell– an actor I have a bit of time for– acted like a man possessed, but couldn’t stop this most idiotic of remakes putting the ‘stupid’ in What The Fuck Did I Shell Out Good Australian Dollars for This Stupid Piece of Shit?

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 42, and spent the day at home with my family constantly telling me I wasn’t allowed to do anything, just sit back and enjoy my day. So I did 🙂

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Greater satisfaction.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?

Falling-to-bits because I’d rather make sure the kids had decent kit.

31. What kept you sane?

Lyn, the kids, writing, cider.

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

The Newtown school shooting.

33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.

Many years ago I set myself the goal of being a full-time writer by the time I was 45. I might not reach it by that age, but it remains a goal most devoutly wished.

34. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Dear sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
                    Paperback Writer, the Beatles.

Review: Red Country

Red Country
Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A stunning novel, deceptive in its slow pace as it is that very pace which builds and builds and builds tension and danger in every-thickening layers. It’s a frontier western story dressed as a fantasy: thick with dust, shit, sweat and spit, populated by characters at once familiar to both genres but, again, accreted with such deep personalities over the passage of the book that they lodge under the reader’s skin and stick there. I was utterly absorbed from beginning to end. Easily my book of 2012.

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